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Managing Radiological Crime Scenes: Learning through Practice

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Workshop participants, dressed in personal protective equipment, photograph the contaminated evidence for crime scene reconstruction, necessary for investigation and legal proceedings. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

At a mock crime scene with radioactive material and contaminated evidence, participants of a recent IAEA National Workshop on Radiological Crime Scene Management in Yerevan, Armenia practiced investigating and securely and safely collecting evidence.

Participants from Armenian authorities responsible for crime scene management, investigations, detection of and response to nuclear or other radioactive materials out of regulatory control, radiation safety and nuclear forensics attended the workshop, held 11-15 November 2019 in cooperation with the Armenian Nuclear Regulatory Authority. The participants practiced the radiological crime scene management process as outlined in the IAEA publication Radiological Crime Scene Management (Nuclear Security Series No.22-G).    

Radioactive material at crime scenes can be the result of intentional malicious acts such as theft or trafficking of material for illicit purposes. It can also be the result of criminals causing unintentional damage to machinery that contains radioactive sources. Regardless of the cause, a crime scene at which radioactive material could be present requires special management.

“The priorities at a radiological crime scene are to protect people and the environment from dangers of ionizing radiation potentially present on the scene, to seize evidence of criminal acts that enables authorities to successfully prosecute perpetrators, to investigate links to other offences and to identify where further criminal acts may be planned,” said Tom Craik, course instructor and former UK Police Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Tactical Advisor.

First responders to a radiological crime scene must assess the threat and risk, plan how to safely approach the scene, mitigate hazards, gather evidence and contain potential contamination, in addition to carrying out the tasks required at any crime scene.

“The scientific experts analysed the particular radioactive material and helped us identify the tools to use for collecting the evidence, the amount and type of packaging for radiation shielding, and to determine how much time we could spend on the scene to minimize our exposure to radiation,” said participant Artak Sargsyan, Head of Special Investigations at the Armenian Police.

The type of personal protective equipment (PPE) used by law enforcement officers during their investigation depends on the expected hazards and is guided by advice from scientific experts, who also advise local law enforcement on evidence recovery plans and analyse nuclear forensic evidence. Having established channels of communications and relationships is key to ensuring that any radiological crime scene is managed effectively and efficiently.

“The processes of putting on and taking off the PPE for radiological crime scenes are more difficult than that for conventional crime scenes,” said a participant Rudolf Avanesyan, an instructor at the Ministry of Emergency Situations. “Any opening may lead to contamination seeping in on the inside, and if not properly removed, radiation from the outside may contaminate the person or spread contamination outside the scene.”

The participants made evidence recovery plans and used radiation detection equipment to execute these at the workshop’s mock radiological crime scene.  To minimize exposure, evidence collectors worked in groups where one person handled the evidence and a second person helped package it for further nuclear forensic analysis and use in legal proceedings. An evidence custodian, outside the crime scene perimeter, further screened for radiation, labeled, and packaged the evidence.

The IAEA provides the National Workshop on Radiological Crime Scene Management and other resources, upon request, to Member States to help them strengthen their capabilities to respond to a potential nuclear security event.  The IAEA, in collaboration with the Centre for Energy Research in Hungary and INTERPOL, also conducts train-the-trainer courses and nuclear forensics training.

Tom Craik, course instructor and former UK Police Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Tactical Advisor, demonstrates how to properly put on radiological crime scene personal protective equipment (PPE) to enusre that contamination does not get on the inside the PPE suit. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Last update: 28 Nov 2019

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